Before considering what the origins might be it is worth looking at the variant spellings which have been used, as these may give a clue to the origins of both the family and the name (either directly, if the name shows evidence of having evolved from another, or indirectly, through leading to the discovery of documents which provide evidence).

The following is looking for / at those in Devon who may were recorded with the surname Issell or a close variant surname / deviant surname of it, and then looking at all variants of the name in their family; this gives a wider range of variant (or deviants) some of which it would otherwise have been unsafe to consider a variant of Issell. Looking at the families of those identified also has the advantage of discovering forms of the name which may not have shown in up in indexes.

The earliest know form

The 1332 lay subsidy (Erskine, p.90) does contain an Oysel – John, in Talaton. This is sufficiently far (about 30 miles) from the next known and the area in general where Issells were found in the C16th on that I think it would be unsafe at this time to assume any connection (though at the same time is would be unwise to dismiss the possibility).

Although the C14th lay subsidies show where people were, they don’t show where they weren’t. Only those wealthy enough to pay the subsidy were included, thought to be about a third of householders. (Since conducting the research described below I have revisited Erskine to check for any of the variant spellings I have found, in case I hadn’t recognised them as such. There is none, including no Eastleys, Eastleighs etc. The only others which it seems to me might conceivably evolved to Eastleigh are Ayslyng, found in Dartmouth so not too far from the earliest found close Eastley variant (Estlegh, in Paignton, 1540s, see below) and Ayshlegh (Tamerton Foliot, Winkleigh – 2 entries, Umberleigh and Modbury). Although the middle ‘h’ sound is absent from almost all variants with both endings, there was an Yshly in Paignton and Yschell and Ysshell in Dartington in the mid-C16th (see below).

All of the Ayshleghs are shown as ‘de Ayshlegh’. Whilst it is no longer considered that this always indicates a descriptive by-name, rather than an inherited surname, one of the Tamerton entries actually says ‘of the same’ rather than repeating the place name, suggesting it was a by-name, a reminder that another reason why there may be no Issells or Eastleys etc. in the 1332 lay subsidy is that it may have been a name originating later in a family that in 1332 had only a by-name.         

Currently the earliest clear evidence I have of the name is from Ashburton, where a John Issell was recorded in 1472.

The next record is from the Staverton lay subsidies of 1524. This records 2 or 3 people with the name – John YSSELL junior, William YSELL and (is it the same name?) John ESTYLL. I think ESTYLL is the same surname; it is probably this John that leads John YSSELL to be described as ‘junior’. In 1525 John ESTYLL was no longer listed but one Robert ISSELL had been added.

A good approximation to the places in which Issells have been identified is given by this map (it actually only shows birth or baptism places).

The name as used for my Stokenham ancestors

In Stokenham the name has almost always been spelt beginning with ‘I’ though the number of ‘s’s and ‘l’s may vary. Occasionally the name ‘Eastley’ appears when it is almost certain that this referred to the ‘Issell’ family, and in the C17th the name was usually written ending ‘le’ rather than ‘el(l)’.

Islye / Easley / Eastleigh and similar variants

More surprising to me was to find the name with a ley /leigh / lye ending – for instance, when my ancestor John recorded at burial as John EASTLEIGH (Stokenham, 1638). By the C19th Eastley was a far more common name than Issell in Devon, found mainly in the Totnes, Newton Abbot and Kingsbridge Registration Districts, with quite a few in Plymouth RD. Dartington, Littlehempston, Stoke Gabriel and South Brent, all parishes with ‘Issell’ events in theh C16th, were in Totnes RD while Newton Abbot RD included Ipplepen, Staverton and Ashburton (the first two also having C16th Issell events, the latter having Issells from the C17th). The availability of work in Plymouth means it has long drawn people from all over Devon. Thus the distribution of Eastley is consistent with it being a variant of Issell – or, I thought, given it being a far more common name – was the rare name Issell a variant of Eastleigh.

However, it also occurred to me that the PR scribe who recorded John at burial with the surname Eastleigh may have done so because being more common this was the name with which he was familiar. It could have even arisen through a mis-reading of a note or an odd spelling. Whilst an ending ‘le’ suggests the pronunciation ‘ul’ (as in little or treacle, amongst many English words), ‘lee’ suggests the pronounciation ‘leigh/ley’. Did the Rector interpret a note from his parish clerk with the name ‘Isslee’ as poor spelling and tidy it up to ‘Eastleigh’ when he made the PR entry?

I sought out the views of some others. I asked a fellow member of the Devon FHS who has registered an interest in the surname Eastley – no, she hadn’t come across Issell as a variant when researching them. And I asked fellow members of GOONS, had anyone come across variants with the two endings ‘ell’ and ‘ley’? Several people responded to my query, none reported anything similar.

From this lack of others finding any similar confusion between the two phonetically different endings it seemed to me it was probable that the names were not related. I could concentrate on looking at Issell and similar sounding variants and not worry about the ‘ley’ ending.

HOWEVER, when I started looking into the C16th Issells to my surprise I found the Stokenham confusion was far from an isolated case.

A confusion of variants in Dartington

Most C16th records of the name that I have found so far are for a family in Dartington. None was recorded there in the 1520s lay subsidies, but 3 in 1544, probably all closely related. Most of the subsequent records refer to one Laurence and his family. Despite this not only was the spelling quite variable, but it included a number of variants for each the 2 phonetically different endings, as shown in the following table. (I have made the surname of those whose spelling suggests the unexpected ‘ley’ or similar pronunciation bold, to aid the comparison between the two)

Date Surname Person* Event
1539 Yssoie
Jone, daughter of Leonard Burial
1544 Yschell Leonard (probaby brother or father of Laurence) Lay subsidy
1544 Ysshell Margaret and Edward (links to others unknown) Lay subsidy
1555 Islye Lauerans Marriage
1556 Islye Walter, son of Laurence Baptism
1559 Isly Leonard, son of Laurence Baptism
1562 Ysell Thomas, son of Laurence Baptism
1564 Issell Alice, widow and executrix of Leonard Case in Court of Requests
1565/6 Eysyll Amye, daughter of Laurence Baptism
1568 Issell Luke, son of Laurence Baptism
1569 Issell Laurence Muster
1571/2 Isslye+ Ales, daughter of Laurence Baptism
1575 Ysleye Roasse, daughter of Laurence Baptism
1577/8 Islye Nicholas, son of Laurence Baptism
1581 Issell Laurence Lay subsidy
1589/90 Issell Thomas to Anstice BERY Marriage
1612 Issell# Elizabeth, widow (probably of Laurence) Burial
1633 Issell Leonard Chancery Court deposition

A name in italics indicates that I have only seen a transcription, not the original document
* – forenames spelt consistently for a person, not always as in document
# – ink blot over the name so not completely clear
+ – entry not entirely clear but surname definitely starts ‘Is’ and ends ‘lye’

Other C16th families using several name variants 

Robert of Ipplepen, recorded 1546 to 1564/5


A Chancery Court case in 1564/5 concerns a squabble between 2 siblings, Richard Issell and his sister Margaret about property in Ipplepen left by their father, Robert – presumably the Robert found in Ipplepen in 1546, where, as in the court case, his name was spelt Issell. However, while there seem to be no Issell events in the Ipplepen PRs around this time, there were baptisms in 1558 and 1562 of sons of a Richard – with the surname ‘Yselighe’ / ‘Iseligh’. Surely this has to be the same family?

Ambrose of Paignton in 1540s – 1570s


I should add by now I was looking for Eastleys (etc.) as well as Issells. To my surprise I found the name was even rarer than Issell. There was nothing like it in the 1520s lay subsidies and just one in the 1540s – Ambrose ESTLEGH in Paignton. With an unusual name like Ambrose I imagine this is probably the same Ambrose, or at least be closely related to, the one whose daughter Alice was buried with the surname recorded as YSLEY (1574). A son John was recorded with the surname YSHLY (1564). Thomas YESTLEY, baptised in Paignton in 1561, I guess was also a son of Ambrose (parents not named, but I have found no evidence of anyone else in Paignton at this time with a similar surname). Whilst I have found no example of an ‘Issell’ phonetic form in this family it is particularly interesting to see ‘Ysley’ used as a spelling, i.e. lacking the ‘t’ and phonetically the same as most ‘ley’ variants of Issell.


At present it seems to me that Issell and Eastley probably are be variants of the same name (the Eastleys in South Devon, that is, I am not suggesting that all Eastleys may have this origin). I wondered if all of the South Devon Eastleys in the area do (or may) descend from local Eastleys etc. or (in an area with many mariners) if some descend from a ‘stranger’ who arrived from elsewhere. At present I think that most do probably have a local origin. I suspect an Erasmus ESLYE who had 2 children baptised in Plymouth in the 1580s was a foreign immigrant, given his Christian name and that of his daughter – Gartherede. The close proximity of the Marldon, where Eastley is particularly found with quite limited variation, is a neighbouring parish to Paignton, where Ambrose is found with the varied name forms, all with the ‘ley’ pronunciation ending but some otherwise close to the Dartington variants (i.e. starting ‘Ys’ rather than ‘East’ or ‘Est’). 

Which came first – Issell or Islye?

At present I feel as unclear about this as about the chicken or egg! Whilst I have found an Issell in Devon in 1472 and other phonetic ‘Issells’ in Devon in the 1520s, but phonetic ‘Islyes’ only from the 1550s, I don’t consider this difference sufficient nor the numbers so great as to show that Issell was the earliest form.

Although I am far more aware of Issell in non-PR sources and the phonetic Islyes in PRs, this may be due in part to my searching. Two court cases I know of through the Bernau index; I am not sure that I would have noticed ‘Islye’s, and I only searched for names beginning ‘I’ so would not have found Estleigh, Eastley etc..


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